A few posts back, I mentioned being immersed in Alison Bechdel’s latest book, Are You My Mother. I enjoyed Bechdel’s first graphic novel, Fun Home, and have spent the last five years recommending it to readerly friends. I knew I’d read any new book by Bechdel, but when I heard that the book was about her relationship with her mother? Well. Do you know? I just had a daughter. And I am a mother. And I’ve spent a year and some months working on wrapping my head around motherhood, and still haven’t a clue what it means to be this baby’s momma.
Bechdel’s smart and sharp, and her persona in her memoirs is also very intense. She also portrays her childhood self as having been a really intense little kid. Little-kid Alison’s eyes are darkly drawn and haunting, and the scenes from her childhood home are perfectly remembered and very detailed. I always think of the quilt on her childhood bed, and how it only appears at moments that are really emotionally charged. Bechdel spends a lot of this book’s narrative time in therapy, treading and retreading childhood scenes and dealing with her current relationship issues. In short, she discovers the work of a psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, whose theories speak to her situation. Winnicott believed that childhood emotional disturbances can be traced back to mothers, and whether mothers were good mothers, bad or inadequate mothers, or merely good-enough mothers.
I’ve never been psychoanalyzed, and I’ve never studied psychology. I was also not sure I ever *got* psychoanalytic theory in graduate school. What I understood from this book scared me, though, as a fairly intense person who’s now responsible for raising a well-adjusted human being. Am I damaging Lucy by needing time to shut down my mommy self and become “me” again? Am I damaging her by letting her chatter in her crib for a few more moments while I rush to finish writing this post? Am I damaging her every time I hesitate to say the word “vagina”? My experience of this book was moving and a little troublesome. (Though, YES, I loved every moment of it. One of the best books I’ve read this year.) I’m certainly left with a lot to think about, and, I hope, a long long life of interacting with my daughter.
I’m not sure I’ll know how OK Lucy is or will be until she gets there. In the meantime, I guess I just have to be her momma. And go get her from that crib now.